UAA has two Division I teams: Hockey and gymnastics, but hockey was not always a D-I sport.
According to UAA Athletic Director Keith Hackett, hockey became a Division I sport in the ’80s after Division II hockey was eliminated as a sport at that level by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
“The options available to UAA at the time were to move to Division I or Division III. UAA chose to move up in the level of competition to Division I,” Hackett said.
Matt Thomas is the head coach of Seawolf Hockey, and he says that there really is no other division for UAA to compete, except at the top level.
“There wasn’t enough schools that supported [Division II hockey], so you either compete at the Division I or the Division III level in hockey. We wouldn’t have a conference that we’d be able to go into. There’s no Division III programs out west,” Thomas said. “We wouldn’t have a conference to go to. Nobody would accept us. They pushed so hard back in the ’80s to go Division I because that was the only conference they could go into because of those teams. Division I teams, they travel. We travel quite a bit and that’s why we need it for Alaska.”
Hackett said there are several differences between Division I and II sports, and while UAA offers two Division I sports, the school is still recognized by the NCAA as a Division II school.
“Some of those differences include numbers of permissible scholarships available, size of coaching staffs, recruiting rules and regulations, level of competition, etc.,” Hackett said. “Chief among these requirements is a desire to make a commitment to developing a program that can be competitive at the highest level in college sports through competitive facilities, salaries and the support services needed to build a winning program… Up until a few short years ago, UAA did not have these kinds of necessities for our Division I programs to compete at the Division I level on a consistent basis. Competing at the Division I level takes a significant commitment of human and physical resources.”
Thomas said that the team and the scholarships it would be able to offer would be greatly affected by a different division and that only local students would come for the sport.
“There are no scholarships in Division III. You’d only have one comprised of… Well, it depends, you’d still have teams,” Thomas said. “From a scholarship standpoint, you can probably get Alaskans to play because they’d probably be here but I don’t know how many out of state people come up here. I think a lot of Division III schools people go there, they’re regional, they live in that area.”
The overall cost of athletics would be reduced if UAA didn’t offer Division I sports, Hackett said, but that many of the costs would stay the same regardless of division.
“[Without Division I sports] we would have to add programs to meet our NCAA minimum requirements to be a D-II member and to maintain our compliance with Title IX,” Hackett said. “A majority of our costs are travel related. When you have to fly to every competition, there are significant costs involved. Sponsoring Athletics is an expensive proposition but an important one for most institutions.”
Dede Allen, the associate director of Athletics, is the designated Gender Equity Coordinator for athletic programs and Title IX issues. All divisions are subject to the same Title IX regulations, Allen said.
“Title IX’s intent is simple; provide participation opportunities and athletic grant-in-aid in a gender equitable manner,” Allen said. “Any institution that receives federal funding is subject to Title IX, therefore the NCAA Division I, II or III is irrelevant. The details of how gender equity is achieved can be complicated. Title IX gives us guidance in the operation the department of athletics and it is our responsibility to make decisions in a gender neutral manner.”
Some issues that Allen focuses on are equipment and supplies, travel and per diem allowance, coaches, services, facilities, publicity, recruitment and scheduling of games and practice times.
Hockey costs more than gymnastics, and Allen said that budgets don’t need to match up as long as decisions about the teams are made without a consideration of gender.
“This doesn’t mean that we are required to spend dollar for dollar the same on men’s and women’s sports, only that decisions are made in a gender neutral manner…[For example,] gymnastics uniforms and equipment are less expensive than hockey uniforms and equipment,” Allen said.
Hackett said that there have been no further discussions to eliminate any athletic teams at UAA since Nov. 2016, and that talk of transitioning into a Division II school isn’t very serious.
“If we were to make a decision to move solely to a D-II Conference there would need to be a careful review of what that would look like and what sports might be considered for expansion,” Hackett said. “At this time there has been no serious discussion about this topic. Many of our costs would remain the same because of the huge amount of travel we already have based on our geographic location in Alaska.”
Allen said that outside of Title IX requirements, cutting or transitioning divisions also means discussing NCAA requirements.
“There are other considerations like NCAA membership requirements and Conference sport offerings, in addition to Title IX, when determining sport sponsorship,” Allen said. “While dropping a male sport may not hurt our gender equity position, it may put us in jeopardy with NCAA or Great Northwest Athletic Conference rules.”
If UAA were to cut hockey, Allen said that there may not be an immediate Title IX issue, but NCAA rules require a minimum of 10 sports, and GNAC membership requires offering specific sports such as basketball and cross country.